He had been strongly pursued by the cross-town Los Angeles Clippers, but he announced Thursday that he would sign a new contract with the team he has played with since entering the league at the young age of 18 in 1996. "I struggled with the decision. I gave it a lot of thought, prayed about it. But, you know, I've been a Laker fan since I was a little kid. Being a Laker is part of me. Watching Magic [Johnson] grow up. Watching Kareem [Abdul Jabbar], James Worthy and all these fabulous players playing for the Lakers. And you know it's in my heart. I mean this is what I do. This is the team I want to play for, have a chance to finish my career out here, and I'm fortunate enough to be able to do that," he said.
And as one of the highest paid players in sports. Kobe Bryant will reportedly be paid about $136 million over the next seven seasons. His decision to stay a Laker came one day after the team traded fellow-superstar Shaquille O'Neal to the Miami Heat. Now, it will be Bryant, along with incoming coach Rudy Tomjanovich and Heat imports Lamar Odom, Caron Butler and Brian Grant, who will be leading the Lakers into the future. Along with Shaq, Bryant and the Lakers won three straight NBA titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
At his news conference, Kobe was asked how he thinks the Lakers will fare now without their star center? "Can I win without Shaq? I don't know. It's going to be a collective effort. We'll try to get some players in here who can help us and see if we can't improve, take some steps forward and then we'll see what happens. But we'll give it our best effort," he said.
One significant obstacle remains for Kobe Bryant before next season. His trial on felony sexual assault charges gets under way in Eagle, Colorado on August 27. Bryant claims he had consensual sex with his accuser.